North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA): Net Job Loss or Gain

Executive Summary

The US has seen a net loss of employment and a massive trade deficit as a result of trade policies introduced during the Clinton Administration. The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), exported industrial capacity to foreign markets which compounded a domestic sovereign debt crisis in the US and complicated its resolution. The trade deficits of the United States hurt the US economy and place an undue burden on future earnings of companies and citizens who wish to conduct business in the US and make the US market less attractive to both domestic and foreign investment. Under the Obama Administration trade deficits have tripled and the National Debt has grown both to record highs and this can only place these international trade agreements as a loss for the United States.


There are two distinct phenomenons present in the United States that may have roots in a multinational trade agreement from the 1990’s. In one perspective, the state of Wisconsin has been hemorrhaging jobs as multiple US-based companies export operations and production offshore to neighboring Mexico. Conversely, in Mississippi, plants built by foreign manufactures like Nissan have caused a perceived increase in the jobs market and are viewed as an economic positive to the state economy of Mississippi. The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), signed by President Clinton in 1993 has been credited and criticized as the source for these shifts in economic opportunity.

Wisconsin has lost jobs to Mexico since the implementation of NAFTA. In the spring of 2015, after receiving several hundred thousand dollars in grants from the state in tax incentives, Eaton Corporation in Watertown, Wisconsin outsourced jobs to Mexico for the third year in a row (Neumann 2015). In 2014, a Manitowoc-based ice-machine manufacturing firm exported its operations to Mexico (Barrett 2014). In 2013 Cooper Power systems cut two-thirds of its Pewaukee-based work force and moved those jobs to Mexico (Barrett 2013). In 2011, after being nominated as the President Obama’s Jobs Czar (Lesley Stahl 2011), Jeff Immelt announced that after 115 years, General Electric would move its medical corporate headquarters to China from Wisconsin (Layne 2011) and that it would lay off additional workers in Pennsylvania (Linton 2013) after paying zero income tax (Kavoussi 2013). In 2010, Polaris closed its Wisconsin plant and moved to Mexico (Knutson 2010). Many Wisconsinites saw their friends and family lose careers and homes over these shifts as they looked for different opportunities and many blamed the off-shoring of their jobs on NAFTA (Nichols 2004).

Between 2001 and 2012 Mississippians spent $378 million to lure Nissan Motors to build and maintain a large automotive plant which employed several thousand workers in Canton, Mississippi (Gibson 2014). The city of Canton waived Nissan’s taxes for 30 years and spent almost $80,000 per employee at the Canton plant to incentivize the move (Russell 2013). In 2010, a munitions manufacturing plant just outside of St. Louis told striking workers it was moving operations to Mississippi (Giergerch 2010) and received a $25 million package in incentives from the state to do so (Volkmann 2010). Talon Weapons Manufacturing moved its operations to Mississippi in 2013 (Mississippi Business Journal 2013) and in 2011, defense contractor Lockheed Martin moved 350 jobs into the former WorldCom headquarters in Mississippi to field a call center (The Clarion Ledger 2011). In 1998, the Business Journal reported that Uncle Ben’s rice moved a large milling plant to the Delta region with hundreds of jobs coming to the state (Perin 1998) from Texas. Mississippi remained home to the largest producer of eggs in the country Cal-Maine foods (“Cal-Maine Foods” 2015) who expanded operations as the largest exporter of eggs to Canada and Mexico (Arora 2015). Many Mississippians have seen jobs come into the state from large companies and attribute this growth to the policies signed by President Clinton in NAFTA.

These two perspectives identify a paradox of perception that has had free-trade critics and advocates disputing the macroeconomic of net job creation or loss in the US economy as a result of an agreement that purported to, “tear down the trade barriers between three nations,” (Clinton 1993). President Clinton promised that it would create 200,000 jobs annually and that its implementation would mean greater productivity, lower unemployment, greater work efficiency, higher wages, and greater security for our people (Clinton 1993). Furthermore, Clinton claimed that NAFTA would create a million jobs within five years (Posen et al. 2014). During the Presidential debates as he ran against Bill Clinton, populist reformer Ross Perot described a sucking sound of jobs leaving the country as a result of free trade policies like NAFTA and GAT (Perot 1992). So was President Clinton correct in his political and economic assertions? Did NAFTA generate jobs or lose them?

The purpose of this research will be to utilize comparative analysis compare three research topics which include background or foundational knowledge, advocacy for the North American Free Trade Agreement and a critical analysis against it. This comparison will inform and explore the importance of the researcher’s variables while providing a theoretical framework. The author will attempt to composite similarities and differences between those variables. Lastly, the author will attempt to synthesize a commonality or rule from the analysis and why it is important.

Foundational Knowledge: Jobs and the Economy

Jobs are an important issue facing Americans. Understanding how jobs are created informs understanding toward the apologetics and critics of the North American Free Trade Agreement. Lastly, it is important to understand how unemployment statistics are represented in current economic news and thought.

An American Agenda. A 2010 Gallop poll noted that job creation was the number one social, political and/or economic issue among Americans (Jones 2010). Polling data since 2010 continued to note that job creation remained atop the list of concerns facing Americans (“Most Important Problem” 2015). In his 2015 State of the Union address, President Obama claimed the US economy created jobs faster than any time since 1999 (Jacobson 2015). In 2011, President Obama laid out a jobs-creation package worth more than $400 billion in hopes of reelection while the US unemployment remained at 9.1% (Wells 2011). Wisconsin Governor, Jim Doyle echoed Obama’s shovel-ready jobs sentiment by setting up an office in Wisconsin to distribute these funds. He noted, “My job as the governor is to make sure that happens — that we are ready to go and that we can get people to work promptly,” when he explained that there were about 7,000 transportation industry workers in Wisconsin without jobs (Naylor 2009). In 2009, several years after hurricane Katrina devastated, Moss Point, Mississippi, mayor Xavier Bishop complained of red tape hindering his shovel ready projects and lamented, that many required re-submission to differing federal and state agencies as funds were not locked in and reallocated by different agencies over time. Bishop and neighboring Ocean Springs mayor, Connie Moran, warned that despite the Obama administration’s emphasis on “shovel-ready” projects, Mississippians should not expect a lot of job creation on the front end from these political claims (Griffin and Johnston 2009).

Von Mises Institute Chair, Lew Rockwell addressed the problem of Americans looking to their government for jobs. Governments do not create wealth unless they first take it from some other productive entity. Rockwell noted that politicians simultaneously pay homage to the idea of freedom while practicing often as oligarchic managers of society. Rockwell lamented those Americans, “believe in bureaucracy, central banking, war and sanctions, regulations and dictates, limitations and mandates, crisis management, and any and every means of financing all of this through taxes and debt and the printing press,” (Rockwell 2008). Every job the US Government creates it must take from some other productive aspect of the economy.

Job Creation. Classical economists view job creation as a bi-product for increased demand in the product or service that the business provided in what has been noted as Say’s Law (Say 1995). Critics of Say’s Law traced their roots to John Maynard Keynes and his General Theory (Keynes 1936) and employed the use of the Phillips Curve (Hoover 2015) to explain increased employment as a raise in prices or an increase the money supply in the short run. With increased debt economies should see a bumped increase in jobs but at an expense of repaying the debt. Austrian economist Ludwig von Mises critiqued these Keynesian bumps as inflationary (Mises 1974). The fallacy of raised prices and/or increased the money supply to reduce unemployment in an economic model can be seen in the macro-economies of the 1970’s with Stagflation (McConnell and Brue 1996). Keynesians attribute stagflation to shocks in the system that cost jobs like fluctuations in oil pricing (Taylor 1998). Say’s Law still held true despite the temporary aberrations the monetary policy of a central bank may introduce into an economy noting the massive un-repaid debt incurred by the US government during this time.

A long term perspective of this can be informed from the idea that in order to do anything a state must acquire resources from a producing entity in the economy through some means of coercion like taxation or regulation. If a business is profitable, it becomes less competitive in a market when the state takes its share and the business has to pass the value of that confiscation onto its customers in order to stay in business. When business becomes less profitable, its competitors in foreign markets may have an advantage because their state agencies do not operate at the same level of taxation or regulation as found in the domestic marketplace. Noting, the United States has one of the highest corporate taxation systems in the world (Pomerleau 2013), this make export of operations and production more attractive to domestic firms and thus the loss of jobs with it (Kotlikoff 2015). Through this lens the state is the cause of the very poverty caused by loss of wages and jobs it is advocating a solution to (Marquart 2013). Additionally, these interventions are not universal and target markets or companies allowing monopolies to exist with state sponsorship which limits real competition and thus creation of wealth which translated to an increased need for jobs (Mises 2010).

Measuring Unemployment. Unemployment in the United States is generally measured through an index compiled by the Bureau of Labor and Statistics (Groshen 2015). People in the United States are considered unemployed if they do not have a job, have actively looked for a job in the past four weeks, and are currently available for work (Groshen 2015). Monthly labor surveys exclude people in prisons, the military and others in institutions who are not considered in the labor market (Groshen 2015). This includes retirees and pensioners who are a large segment of the US economy. Those who are not in the labor market are not considered unemployed. Notably, if people give up looking for a job or their benefits run out they are also not considered unemployed in the computation of this index.

In October of 2012, the Obama administration touted reduced unemployment numbers that had moved from 8.1% to 7.8% (Kaster 2012). The trend continued when the Wall Street Journal reported that unemployment numbers plummeted to 5.5% (Morath 2015). Polling giant Gallup CEO Jim Clifton criticized the validity of position and noted the drop was not because people were finding work (Gorman 2015). Informed by mass-media, Americans remained under the illusion that job markets were improving without the knowledge that the official numbers were skewed. Historian and Fifth Column reporter Ben Morris looked again at the Bureau of Labor and Statistics unemployment index, and claimed that true unemployment rose almost 10% since 1995 and that 92 million Americans remained unemployed (Morris 2015). A Canadian research firm echoed the inaccuracy of the 5.5% claim when it pegged US unemployment at 23% which is the highest it has been in 30 years (Global Research 2015).

The Critics Case Against the North American Free Trade Agreement

Some critics argue that NAFTA created a framework that empowered the US Treasury Exchange Stabilization Fund which allowed the US taxpayers to bail out the Mexican economy in 1996 costing more than $40 billion (Sheehan 1995). Additionally critics argue that the $2.5 billion US trade surplus with Mexico turned into a massive trade deficit of $181 billion by 2012 or a negative change for the US economy of 580% (Public Citizen 2013). Similarly critics claim that one million US jobs were lost as a result of NAFTA (Public Citizen 2013). It is assumed that one million remained a conservative number since the US government tracked only companies that qualified for assistance in claims toward a trade loss. This was a difficult process and it is believed that other small and medium businesses were unable to benefit from this assistance and thus were excluded from the computation of only a million jobs lost. Furthermore, employees who benefited from this program saw lower earnings than those who took regular unemployment benefits (The Wall Street Journal 2015). NAFTA noted special consideration for foreign investment made a move to Mexico more lucrative for companies who could recover damages in tribunals outside national court systems (Public Citizen 2013). Lastly, critics noted that workers when they did find new work made less. The Brookings Institution reported that the average worker that was displaced as a result of NAFTA lost 30% of their earnings when they re-entered the job market (Brainard, Warren, and Litan 2005).

Almost a decade prior to the Public Citizen publication, the US Government certified in 2004 that more than 525,000 US workers lost their jobs as a result of the agreement (Nichols 2004). In 2011 this number was nearly 700,000 (Strachan 2011). In Wisconsin, at least 48 Wisconsin companies and 1,622 workers were certified as hurt by NAFTA (Kengor 2000). The region with the most certified workers was Milwaukee-Waukesha, with 1,046 certifications (Kengor 2000).

In Mississippi, the state’s Supreme Court ruling helped a Mississippi-based company fight a large multinational that attempted to capitalize on the benefits of NAFTA. In a 1996 settlement and following a ruling of the Mississippi Supreme Court, Mississippi-based undertakers O’Keefe sued a Canadian owned NAFTA benefactor over fraudulent business practices and secured a $500 million award (Bernstein 1996). Funeral homes have long since been locally owned businesses and consolidation of that industry by Wall-street backed darlings like Loewen Corporation furthered monopolization of regional interests and then raised prices once competitors had been bought out or pushed into bankruptcy (Bernstein 1996). This tried and true method of consolidation gave rise to the Oil Giant of Standard Oil following the civil war and the first parts of the twentieth century (Tarbell 1904).

The Apologetics Case for the North American Free Trade Agreement

The Wisconsin Policy Research Institute conducted a study headed by Georgia Tech economist Dr. Richard Cebula in which he reported that NAFTA benefited the state of Wisconsin (Kengor 2000). The study noted that although exports make up only 6% of the Wisconsin economy, this sector grew under NAFTA and noted those exports to Canada and Mexico accounted for over half of the state’s export base (Kengor 2000). This growth remained in double digits in every year except 1995 with a cumulative gain of $5.3 billion in exports. Wisconsin saw an increase of Kenosha exports to Canada, which improved a whopping 827% (Kengor 2000). Kengor reported that Wisconsin gained 79,845 as a result of NAFTA (Kengor 2000).

While the critics note that almost 45,000 people lose their jobs monthly and claim that it is a result of NAFTA placed into the larger context of the economy this is less than 0.1% of a turnover, considering four million Americans change jobs monthly (Posen et al. 2014). Supporters of NAFTA claim that this transition of jobs is not placed into an appropriate context of the larger US economy as a whole.

Comparing the Details

More than $1 billion in goods cross the US-Mexico border daily (Camuñez 2011). Since 1994, $4.6 trillion in goods have been exchanged between the US and Mexico. The United States is the largest global market for Mexican exports, and Mexico is the second-largest US export market. 55% of all new foreign direct investment in Mexico in 2011 came from the United States (“Enhancing the US-Mexico Partnership” 2012). In 2011, US exports to Mexico grew by $34 billion, the biggest dollar increase in US exports to any market worldwide (“Enhancing the US-Mexico Partnership” 2012). Mexico’s $349 billion in 2011 exports to the world, on average, contained 37% from US input. A result of this commerce estimated, six million US jobs remain dependent on trade with Mexico (“Enhancing the US-Mexico Partnership” 2012).

Broad based political support for free trade allowed NAFTA to become US policy. NAFTA passed in both houses of the democratically controlled Congress in 1993. In the Senate, it passed with 61 yeas and 38 nays. In the House, it was much closer at 234 yeas to 200 nays. The Republicans in the House really came through for Clinton by providing 132 yeas to counter 156 Democratic nays (Boudicca 2007). This support also came from the large multinational corporations where Caterpillar, Siemens, and Johnson and Johnson all promised to grow US jobs when in actuality they exported production to Mexico (Public Citizen 2013).

The Bottom Line. Central to the arguments for and against a focus on considerations informed by the importance one gave to trade deficits and net job losses. In one perspective the shifting dynamics of the US job market has seen an aging populace leave the work force permanently for retirement and as a result make different lifestyle choices. This has shifted real-estate markets (Badger 2013), health care costs (Christina Orlovsky 2007) and the stock market (Bresiger 2012) as those assets have been reallocated in economy and have caused some markets to dry up while others have exploded. The US government even reimplemented the Bush era tax-cuts and instituted the Affordable Health Care Act as a result of the Boomers’ leaving the job market and not acquiring health insurance through employer benefits at the behest of insurance companies (Suede 2010; Salazar 2013). Generation X and Y Americans have moved largely into high tech and medical jobs to meet that need in the prime earning income years with Millennials poised to enter growing high-tech the job market behind them (Schroer 2015; “High-Tech Sector Job Growth Continues to Outpace Overall Employment” 2015). Lastly, the US economy like Mexico and Canada has seen exorbitant growth in government spending with each citizen’s share of US the national debt totaling more than $1.1 million (Matthews 2013). Critics of US Government spending note that more than $128 trillion in unfunded liabilities exists above and beyond the existing national debt (Kessler 2013).

When trade deficits and net job losses are viewed through this lens the burden of debt outweighs any benefit or detractor that any trade agreement might have on an economy (Marshall 2011). To answer the question of a net job loss it appears that the detractors are right but the role of NAFTA is smaller than advocated by the critics due to additional economic and financial considerations. A million jobs shift in a country of 300 million is small. By reducing their investment risk, Boomers will continue a shift toward bonds instead of stocks. This will increase deficit spending by local, state and federal governments (via the capitalization of these bonds) to pay for these unfunded liabilities. There is no debt repayment plan and the future generations of the US may be less likely to repay that debt with less economic opportunity or oppressive overhead of taxation on business, property owners and persons (Hendrickson 2013). More American workers will go abroad as the trend to relinquish their US passport continues (Bachmann 2013). Those who stay will see deceased incomes and standards of living as these local, state and federal agencies attempt to recover that money or reduce their purchasing power through inflation.

To address the issue of trade deficits, Alan Uke noted that the US has a trade deficit with 88 countries (Uke 2012). If one considers the top seven trading partners, i.e., Canada, China, Mexico, Japan, Germany, South Korea, and the United Kingdom, they represent 50.9% of the US total trade deficit– which amounted to $461.3 billion from January to November in 2014 (Nash-Hoff 2015). While this is offset in some capacity by the export of US Services industry, the importance of this deficit and its relationship to the national debt deals with the fact that many of the businesses that were making products in the US now make them overseas and do not pay taxes into the system the same ways that they used to but benefit from the US market and assume no liability on paying off the US National Debt. Nash-Hoff explained this phenomenon when they noted:

One way is that many products, especially consumer products, which were previously made in the U. S., are now made in China or other Asian countries, so we are importing these products instead of exporting them to other countries. The off-shoring of manufacturing of so many products has resulted in the loss of 5.8 million American manufacturing jobs and the closure of over 57,000 manufacturing firms. These American workers and companies paid taxes that provided revenue to our government, so now we have less tax revenue to pay for the benefits and public assistance for the unemployed and underemployed.

Gary Hufbaur, an early advocate of NAFTA, claimed that American billionaire Ross Perot was wrong about NAFTA in the 1992 Presidential debates when Hufbaur noted, “NAFTA was not about net jobs lost or gained, or changes in the trade deficit. Its goal was to increase living standards in the partner countries,” (Hufbaur 2013). In 2014, the US embassy reported that poverty rates in Mexico remained high and income inequality remained equally disproportionate (Wayne 2014). The embassy noted that access to healthcare while improved still remained inaccessible to millions of Mexican nationals in Mexico. The education system in Mexico struggled to improve the lives of average Mexicans while it maintained a 70% drop out rate (Wayne 2014). The ambassador also reported that over one-third of the households in Mexico contained a victim of crime with security and human rights issues costing the country some 15% of its GDP (Wayne 2014).

Like Mexico, wealth over the past 20 years in Canada went to the super-rich where wealth inequality remained high (Golden 2009). Canadian median income barely increased more than 33 years from $45,800 in 1976 to $48,300 in 2009 when adjusted for inflation (Golden 2009). Moreover, the gap between average and median income continued to grow (Golden 2009). This gap signaled that income growth is distributed unequally (Golden 2009). On a positive note, since 1990, Canada’s high-school dropout rate has decreased by almost 50% (“Learning to Know: high-school Dropout Rate” 2010). While Canada’s poor and wealthy have improved the qualitative aspects of their lives, their middle-class continued to see a decline in opportunity in Canada (Grant 2013).

Lastly Hufbaur’s claim of increased standards of living failed even the world’s largest economy. American standards of living have decreased. Like Canada, since 2008 real median incomes are down 9.8%, net worth has fallen, and rising consumer prices have eroded the buying power of Americans by 3.25% (Scherer 2011).


Instead of an improved trade balance, or increase in a standard of living as Hufbaur argued in NAFTA’s creation, the US economy experienced a net jobs loss and a massive trade deficit. The variables of unemployment, exportation of jobs, regulatory and tax burdens in a marketplace, continued to influence outcomes in discovering a commonality NAFTA’s blessing or curse of the US economy. The idea that NAFTA is a net job loss was a common theme between both, the advocates and critics but the importance of those job losses required weighting the argument differently. For the advocates it played only a small role. For the critics it was a symbol of a much larger problem with a trade deficit and its association with the National Debt. Furthermore the trade deal exported net industrial capacity to foreign markets which exasperated the domestic debt crisis and made its resolution at some future point in time even more difficult to resolve. Crime and corruption remain rampant in Mexico (“Global Corruption Report 2007: Corruption and Judicial Systems” 2013) which harms the standard of living in Mexico. The trade deficits of the United States hurt the US economy and placed an undue burden on future earnings of citizens by an increased deficit spending of the local, state and national governments to unpayable and unsustainable levels. This is in the wake of statements by the Obama administration who have said they cut deficit spending in half when in actuality they tripled the national trade deficit (Real Science 2013). NAFTA has been one more straw on the camels back in what many consider a Cloward-Piven strategy whose bleak future robs Americans of their self-reliance and culture of innovation and industry (Corsi 2014).


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